Experts agree that many problems can be due to childhood trauma and that therapy should initially be individual.
There are moments in a relationship when there are problems of jealousy, infidelity, codependency, or low self-esteem. People resort to different types of couples therapy when the conflict starts spilling over into other areas of their lives and becomes a situation that negatively influences work or school.
“Many couples take therapy because they’re confused. They don’t know whether to continue the relationship or end it. In some cases, patients have even come to me determined to break their ties, but they don’t know how to express it to the other person or how much it will affect their children,” says Paulina López from R&A Psicólogos, who holds a master’s degree in psychology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
It’s increasingly common for couples who’ve been dating for months and who still don’t live together to decide to go to therapy, which the specialist says is good because it works preventively.
Paulina López explains that emotional and mental wellbeing is personal. “The first goal in therapy is individual wellbeing. I can’t be good with another person if I don’t feel good about myself first.”
Another fundamental aspect is communication. Not just talking but communicating with the other person to tell them what you want and feel.
There shouldn’t be any attacks, assumptions, nor acting in a defensive way. In order to really listen to someone, we need to pay attention to what the other person says and not be judgmental.
“Another element is negotiation: in therapy, we work at talking and expressing ourselves, but we also work on reaching an agreement.”
Trust has a lot to do with whether there has been any infidelity, but trust is also involved with supervising that children do their activities if it’s your turn to take care of them or managing household finances properly, she says.
Sexuality is another topic that is touched on in therapy. “It’s one of the most important aspects of a relationship that is often affected for various reasons such as having been in a relationship for many years, having children, worries, and stress.”
While there are feminist and contextual therapies, in addition to unregulated or unsupported alternatives, Paulina López from R&A Psicólogos proposes talking about the theoretical approaches that exist in psychology which share a consensus among psychologists so that there’s no confusion:
This is based on evidence and studies, in which patients identify the thoughts and emotions that lead them to inappropriate behavior. Therapy provides them with tools so they can modify their thoughts and emotions to be more effective, objective, and rational based on what they have learned.
This is a more specific and intense process that focuses on observation.
In this therapy, patients will become aware of unconscious issues and past experiences and will see how much their childhood and the interaction with their nuclear family could have affected their relationship, or how much one person projects their fears and insecurities onto the other person.
Therapists see everything as a system, identifying the areas that aren’t working in the relationship and the impact these problems are having on the other systems, both on the individual and the couple.
Based on these systems, they help develop new modes of interaction in the couple’s relationship.
The main tool for change is the therapeutic relationship. It’s very much based on the here and now, working on the emotional aspect and viewing patients as humans.
This form of therapy is very empathetic so that patients can open up in such a way that changes can be made.
This is based on guiding patients to work on the irrational beliefs that are affecting them in their personal lives and relationships, on assumptions that aren’t allowing the relationship to progress so that they can be changed for more adaptive ideas in order to help them to reach agreements and not have so many arguments.
This isn’t actually a theoretical approach, but as many of the conflicts may be due to sexual problems, it’s an aspect that’s worked on.
It can be for an individual or the couple, addressing very simple issues such as worries or not knowing how to approach the other person because there’s an emotional distance affecting the couple due to having children, work, and even bodily issues such as dysfunction.
Therapist Jaime Lugo says there are moments in life that are emotional breaking points, which cause people to rethink the structures under which they have lived.
From his perspective, when a crisis occurs, it becomes necessary to review concepts such as trust, patience, hope, faith, and everything that isn’t given an important value, but that is vital for existence.
It’s become fashionable for attachment to be bad, but the specialist says that it’s inherent to being human.
And he illustrates this with questions that he’s heard frequently in his practice:
“Why don’t they love me? Why do I put all the meaning of my life into what this person says or does to me? Why can’t I get them to love me the way I want? Why are they cheating on me? Why don’t they care about me? Why do I have to become someone I’m not in order to be with my partner?”
He adds that this search is about that narcissistic injury we all have that is directly linked with the idea of who we are.
When we’re in a relationship, it’s the ideal environment for us to realize how our parents treated us when we were little, how they loved us, taught us to love, and to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
The therapist says that 98% of the cases that come to the office are relationship problems that started as parental conflicts.
But beyond couples therapy, Lugo considers it more important to start with an individual therapeutic process.
Change comes from individual discomfort, that feeling that ‘something isn’t right’ and changes can be made, which is a personal journey. Afterwards, you can analyze whether the process flows into working together as a couple.